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Cost vs Conscience: Booking.com Delves into the Dilemma Dividing Sustainable Travel in 2023

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Booking.com has released new research, with insights gathered from more than 33,000 travellers across 35 countries and territories, that highlights a dilemma where people feel potentially forced to choose between cutting costs and being more mindful about making more sustainable travel choices. At a time of general global uncertainty, travelling more sustainably continues to be front of mind for Canadian travellers, with three-quarters (73%) believing people need to act now and make more sustainable choices to save the planet for future generations. The news continues to be a key influence driver for 44%, who say the recent climate change news agenda has encouraged them to be more sustainable, and yet it also speaks to a quandary facing people when it comes to being more mindful about when, where and how they travel. While more than half (58%) think the environment will get worse in the next six months, 78% believe the cost of living crisis will also get worse, leaving people unsure of what to prioritize as they work to reconcile what is important to them with the demands of everyday life. 

A tale of two wallets in an unsteady global climate

The economic weather has changed drastically since last year, and the big topics at the front of people’s minds today are the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis. 65% of Canadian travellers say they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months, while 75% think the global energy crisis and rising cost of living is impacting their spending plans. For some travellers, the two are mutually exclusive. With rising inflation, more than half of Canadian travellers are stuck in the notion that they must make a choice between sustainability and spending, with 52% believing more sustainable travel options are too expensive (up 12% from Booking.com’s 2022 data). For these respondents, sustainability and travel combined can seem non-urgent when they are worried about affording bills and the energy crisis. On the flip side, with travel well and truly back for others and a more urgent focus on conscious choices, 28% of today’s travellers would be willing to pay more for travel options with a sustainable certification, dialing up their spend to feel reassured they are driving impact. 

As an increasing number of travellers feel the pinch, they are seeking more sustainable travel options rich in rewards, highlighting the perceived trade-off between making conscious choices and saving money and the need for incentivization. More than half (54%) want discounts and economic incentives in order to opt for eco-friendly options (up 13% from 2022) while 38% would be encouraged to travel more sustainably with reward points for making more sustainable choices that they could use for free extra perks or discounts through online travel booking sites. 

Breaking through barriers to drive change 

It’s not just cost that is a perceived hurdle to travelling more sustainably. From limited data to a perceived lack of options, barriers to travelling more sustainably appear higher than ever, with some telling shifts in the past 12 months. Over half (51%) of Canadian travellers believe there are not enough sustainable travel options, while 69% want travel companies to offer more sustainable travel choices (up from 61% in 2022). Despite good intentions, 47% don’t know where to find more sustainable options. For example, 75% seek authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture, yet in stark contrast, 37% don’t know how or where to find these tours and activities that will ensure they give back to the local community. 

Adopting sustainable micro-habits on vacation  

Despite existing barriers and the tightening of purse strings, it’s clear there’s a huge appetite for solutions with 70% of Canadian travellers confirming that travelling more sustainably is important to them. Many say they are converting intent into action by taking active small steps at home, and when travelling, to drive a more sustainable future. Encouragingly, today 79% use reusable shopping bags, 81% recycle waste and 65% carry their own reusable water bottle – and there’s been a significant uptake in Canadians adopting everyday habits on vacation in the past year. 

  • 53% turn the air conditioning off at accommodations when they aren’t there, up 29% from 2022
  • 72% re-use the same towel multiple times, up 43% from 2022
  • 58% use their own reusable water bottle, up 37% from 2022

More than three-quarters (81%) say they turn off the lights and appliances at accommodations when they aren’t there, while more than half (57%) now recycle their garbage when travelling. Even more promisingly, travellers are taking action to make conscious choices on vacation that go beyond these everyday micro-habits. When it comes to transportation, 40% now plan their sightseeing so that they can walk, bike or take public transport, while 41% travel outside of peak season in a bid to avoid overcrowding – both up 30% from 2022. There is also consensus amongst Canadian travellers on taking the ‘buy local’ mantra on vacation, with 42% favoring small, independent stores. 

Trust, truth and the travel industry

Unquestionably, amid rising climate anxiety, travellers are becoming more responsible consumers, from their accommodation to their transport choices. With two thirds (64%) wanting to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived, today’s travellers are increasingly adopting a regenerative approach to travel and searching for vacations with maximum positive impact, while seeking credible assurance when booking across the entire travel experience.  For example, travellers can now easily filter their rental car search results to quickly find fully electric and hybrid cars across 110 countries for their next trip. Or choose one of over 500,000 more sustainable options for their next stay, no matter the accommodation type. More than half (57%) of Canadian travellers would feel better about staying in a particular accommodation if they knew it had a sustainable certification or label, while 48% want to filter their options for those with a sustainable certification next time they book.

In response, the travel industry must adapt to meet the changing expectations of these more conscious consumers, to accommodate the quarter (25%) always on the lookout for brands that promote sustainability, as well as the 67% who are interested to learn more about why specific options are recognized as more sustainable, such as eco-friendly LED lighting and water-efficient toilets for a more sustainable stay. Still, with one in four (41%) travellers today not trusting that the sustainable travel options labeled are truly more sustainable, there are huge strides for the travel industry to make in gaining the trust of consumers. 

Making more sustainable travel solutions easier for everyone 

Since Booking.com celebrated one year of its Travel Sustainable program in November 2022, new features and developments include:

  • Travellers can now also find and book greener taxi options in 95 cities worldwide, simply by looking for the ‘100% Electric’ tagging in the search results. 
  • For transparency on the impact of their flights, in addition to being able to compare the CO2 emissions for different options, customers will soon see tagging indicating when a certain route or carrier is offering a relatively lower emissions option.
  • Public transport ticketing options are available after making an accommodation booking in 47 cities worldwide, including London, Amsterdam, Bangkok and Melbourne. 

“While travel may be back, rising living costs and climate anxiety has led to greater demand for more budget and planet-friendly options,” said Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking.com. “Travel can be a force for good and travellers themselves are proving to be today’s changemakers, adopting more sustainable travel habits and seeking responsible experiences. We are listening and together with our partners across the industry, we are leading positive change and examining every part of the trip to support travellers and benefit local communities and environments. More sustainable travel is an investment for the world, and we are committed to making it easier for everyone to experience travel in a more mindful and responsible way, no matter where they are on their sustainability journey.” 

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